Written for a brass ensemble, Percy Grainger's Duke of Marlborough Fanfare is a shorter work for winds that, in many ways, is an underperformed and under appreciated piece for the medium. Program notes are below, as well as a recording.
Percy Grainger's Duke of Marlborough Fanfare takes its inspiration from an 18th-century broadside ballad, probably written relatively close to the event it portrays--namely the Battle of Ramillies (1706) between the English and French.
The version Grainger uses was collected by Miss Lucy E. Broadwood, about 1895, from Henry Burstow of Horsham, Sussex, whom he describes as "one of the very finest of all English folk singers."
In the ballad the duke lies "on a bed of sickness,... resigned to die." He thinks back on his deeds of valor and in his imagination exhorts "you gen'rals all and champions bold" to "stand true," as he had done in the past:
We clim'ed those lofty hills away,
With broken guns, shields likewise;
And all those famous towns we took,
To all the world's surprise...
The sun was down, the earth did shake,
And I so loud did cry,
'Fight on, my lads, for England's sake,
We'll gain the field or die...'
The majestic, long-measured tune of this ballad is said to be quite unlike the general style of an English folk song, being altogether more artfully conceived. One would suppose that it took its origin in the 'polite' tradition of the formally composed music heard in English pleasure gardens and playhouses of the early Georgian era.
Grainger's dissonant harmonies are much in keeping with the stridency of its military theme.
- Stewart Manville.
The Duke of Marlborough Fanfare was written for the brass choir of the wind band or symphony orchestra. Grainger writes, "My fanfare (written March 5-6, 1939 at Coral Gables, Florida) is based on the English folksong The Duke of Marlborough. In my setting, the tune is heard twice. The first time (behind the platform) it typifies memories of long-past wars--vague, far-off, poetic. The second time (on the platform) typifies war in the present--fast-moving, close at hand, de bonair, drastic."
- James Westbrook.
Simple but sophisticated, The Duke of Marlborough Fanfare is scored for full brass with optional parts for bassoons and saxophones. The opening horn solo is performed [in a University of Illinois Symphonic Band recording] by eight players in unison. The second section of the work treats the original material played by the horns fugally with the entire brass section.
- Frank Hudson.
Percy Grainger, The Duke of Marlborough Fanfare
Dallas Wind Symphony, Jerry Junkin, conductor